At that point, Gerry asked Brooks about Ed Haley, and it was clear from his remarks that he thought he was an incredible fiddler.
”I’ve saw Ed Haley and stood and listened to him and sat in houses and listened to Ed Haley play,” he said. “Ed Haley is the best fiddler I ever listened to and I’ve heard a lot of them. And I’m a pretty good judge of what good fiddling is. And Ed Haley was the slickest, hottest… He bluegrassed it – he’s another fellow that was 50 years ahead of his time, like I mentioned about Emery Bailey. Ed Haley could lay the leather on that fiddle bow and so smooth it was out of this world.”
Brooks told Gerry about seeing Ed at the Roane County Courthouse in West Virginia before the Depression.
I walked up in the courthouse at Spencer one time back in the 20s and there was a crowd in the courthouse yard and there sat Ed Haley fiddling. He had a tin cup sitting there on a little stand. Ed Haley wouldn’t play unless that tin cup kept rattling with nickels and dimes. A dollar bill was out of this world in them days. I listened to Ed Haley play and Homer Bailey, Emery’s brother, was at the stock pen. The stock pen was just across the stream from the courthouse and I hurried to tell Homer. I wanted Homer to hear Ed Haley. I said, “Homer, Ed Haley’s over here at the courthouse yard playing the fiddle. Let’s go over and hear him play a tune or two.” And as we was crossing the bridge going back over the courthouse Homer said, “Plum honor Brook. I wonder if he can fiddle ‘Chicken Reel’ as good as Emery can?” I said, “I don’t know but we’ll find out pretty soon now and you be the judge.”
And we walked up close to Ed. Ed wasn’t playing – there wasn’t no nickels going in the cup. I put a big Bull Moose nickel in the cup and rattled it and I said, “Ed, I’d like to hear you play ‘Chicken Reel’.” And he reared back and leveled off on that fiddle and you never heard such a ‘Chicken Reel’ in all my life. Homer turned sideways and bent over and held his head right forward towards Ed Haley and took that tune in. Shortly, when Ed quit playing, Homer looked at me with a big gold-toothed smile and said, “Plum honor, Emery can’t play it can he Brook?” So he really took a spell over Ed Haley. But Emery was good on it but that was what Ed Haley would do for a fiddler. When you heard Ed play, that was it.
Brooks said to Gerry, “Now Emery Bailey never did see Ed Haley but Clark Kessinger copied Ed Haley fiddling. Ed Haley made a statement before he died. He said he hoped that his type of fiddling had rubbed off on somebody that could carry the thing along and keep it going. Well now, Clark Kessinger was the man. He could imitate Ed Haley’s stroke. But I had the privilege of seeing and hearing Ed Haley play. Nobody could fiddle as good as Ed Haley could, but Clark Kessinger could come close to him.”
Gerry asked Brooks what brought Ed into the Calhoun County area of West Virginia.
”I would say it was Laury Hicks,” Brooks said. “Laury Hicks was another fiddler. Laury Hicks had his own stroke. He never copied nobody. Laury Hicks was rough as a cob but my my he could put stuff on a fiddle that was out of this world. They lived on Stinson, over in that Nebo country. And he would go down to Charleston and bring Ed Haley up and keep him a week – maybe two. Ed enjoyed that. That was free board for Ed, you see. That day and time, it was nippity tuck to make a living if a man didn’t live on a patch of land somewhere. And Laury picked up a lot of his stuff, too.”
Brooks told about a time when Ed was staying with Hicks and visited John McCune, an old fiddler who lived “in that Nebo country” a half-mile below Hicks.
Now, Frank Santy told me this and Ward Jarvis and Senate Cottrell. They fiddled till midnight and Laury thought of old John McCune. He couldn’t play much but he had one tune that they said he was out of this world on. Laury thought of that and he said, “Ed, if you ain’t too tired I’d like to go down to John McCune’s and have him fiddle a tune for you.” Ed was going home the next morning and he said, “We may not have time to do that tomorrow.” And they went down to old John McCune’s John got out of the bed and fiddled that tune. And Ed Haley sat there and listened to it. When John got through, Ed Haley said, “Mr. McCune, you never need to hesitate to play that tune for anybody. There’s nobody living that can beat you playing that tune.” So that was an honor to John McCune on his number.
Brooks knew a little about Ed playing over Laury’s grave, which I had first read about on the Parkersburg Landing liner notes.
“When Laury Hicks was on his dying bed, he said, ‘I would like to have Ed Haley play a few tunes over my grave when I’m dead and gone.’ And Ed Haley made a special trip up to Stinson and fiddled over Laury Hicks’ grave. They said he played some of the sweetest tunes they ever listened to. He took a little group with him and he played the fiddle over Laury’s grave. That’s a true story.”